Do the Green Bay Packers Need to Improve at Backup Quarterback?


Green Bay Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (12) , B.J. Coleman (9) and Graham Harrell (6) wait to run through a drill during organized team activities at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

With Super Bowl XLVII now in the books, all 32 NFL teams are back to 0-0, including the Green Bay Packers. The focus now shifts to how teams will change their makeup for the 2013 season.

For the Green Bay Packers, that means not only addressing their obvious faults (offensive line, running back, inside linebacker) but their less apparent deficiencies as well.

One such deficiency is the backup quarterback position.

When you have a spectacular and sturdy quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, it’s easy to forget just how important a solid backup can be. After taking 51 sacks in 2012 – Rodgers’ second 50-plus sack season in his five years as starter – the possibility of Rodgers being knocked out for a game or more is uncomfortably high.

The Packers have been one of the more responsible teams when it comes to acquiring reliable backup QBs over the last two decades. Aaron Rodgers was once such a backup, as was Matt Flynn. Both demonstrated dynamic ability during their spot duty as backups for the Packers. While expecting another backup of that caliber is probably asking too much, an improvement over the current situation may be warranted.

Currently, the only quarterbacks on the extended roster are Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman. While Harrell gets undue criticism for the fumbled snap on his first NFL play, he certainly doesn’t intimidate with his physical abilities nor has he shown the ability to minimize bad plays and keep the Packers in a game. That said, he’s a very smart player who with more seasoning could become a Doug Pederson-type backup. B.J. Coleman is essentially the polar opposite. He’s raw, wild, and frankly pretty cocky, but he’s got a plus arm and is very coachable.

Let’s review some possibilities:

Graham Harrell

Stick With Harrell

The status quo is often the least popular choice, yet that doesn’t make it a poor one. Graham Harrell is a heady player who has made strides each year in the Packers system. With a few more improvements, he’ll be a perfectly adequate backup quarterback.

The concern is whether Harrell can take that next step. His arm is not going to get any stronger, nor is he going to become a more mobile passer. There’s a chance this is the peak of Harrell’s ability. The coaches have supported Harrell publically, and while this staff knows how to develop and evaluate quarterbacks, this could just be puffery. We’ll know the truth once we see how many snaps Harrell gets in comparison to B.J. Coleman.

BJ Coleman (9)

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Develop B.J. Coleman

B.J. Coleman has the physical talent and Mike McCarthy has a track record of developing quarterbacks though his QB School.

Coleman will have gone through that program twice when the 2013 regular season kicks off. It’s not inconceivable that he’d be ready for the number two job at that point. After all, Matt Flynn served as the top backup in his rookie year.

While Coleman is still an unknown to us, the coaches have seen him all season on the practice squad. He served as the scout team quarterback, and for the most part the Packers were prepared. Coleman’s development will be an interesting storyline during training camp.

Reacquire Matt Flynn

Matt Flynn

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I only bring this up to address how costly and difficult such a move would be. Flynn signed a three-year $19.5 million deal last offseason to start for Seattle. The Seahawks don’t actually need to part with Flynn, as it is estimated they have $18.6 million in cap space.

With an incoming quarterback draft class that is weak at the top, Flynn could once again be a very marketable trade piece. Seattle isn’t going to cut him, nor are they going to give him away. It’s hard to imagine Thompson giving up the required draft pick or picks for a player he let walk a year ago.

Alex Smith

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sign or Trade for Alex Smith

This is another popular suggestion among Packer fans. Alex Smith was the number one overall pick for a team which employed Mike McCarthy as offensive coordinator. Undoubtedly, McCarthy was part of that selection. Furthermore, Smith just completed his most efficient season to date while being shunned in favor the more physically capable Colin Kaepernick. While Smith could be traded, the team might do him a favor and cut him so he can choose his own destination. This is why I don’t see Smith coming to Green Bay. If the 49ers trade him, it’s unlikely they will do so for what the Packers would be willing to part with. If Smith is cut, he’s not going to go to a team with an established starter, much less a superstar like Aaron Rodgers.

Sign Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow

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Count me as completely uninterested, or however you describe the lowest possible level of interest. In three years, Tebow has completed less than 50 percent of his passes, quit on his team, and failed to unseat Mark Sanchez as starting quarterback.

That’s a dreadful resume.

While he says all the right things in the press and can be used in some interesting ways (though none of them seem to work as a part-time player), he’s not a capable passer. Green Bay doesn’t have the setup to replicate what Tebow did in 2011 as Denver’s starter.

Look to the Draft

Senior Bowl south squad quarterbacks Tyler Wilson of Arkansas (8) with E.J. Manuel of Florida State (3) and Landry Jones of Oklahoma (14)

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been said that it’s a bad year to be drafting a quarterback. This is both true and false depending on your needs. The top of the quarterback class isn’t close to last year (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III) or the year before (Cam Newton). However, it’s a much deeper class than normal, and a starting level prospect can be found as late as the middle rounds.

That’s where the Packers could find their backup if they take this approach. A player like Oklahoma’s Landry Jones or  Florida State’s E.J. Manuel need only fall a little for the Packers to swoop in during the fourth round. If that doesn’t happen, quality options like Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert could be had in the fifth or later.

One player that Packers fans will be invested in is Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers, Aaron’s little brother. While the stories would write themselves –  writers always put the ME in Media – this probably wouldn’t be a smart direction for the Packers. Jordan doesn’t have NFL ability let alone the athleticism or arm talent of his MVP brother. He’s a seventh round pick at best, but more likely an undrafted free agent. The Packers would be wise to just steer clear of this potential minefield.

Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Lombardi Ave. He has previously written for Hail to the Orange, College Hoops Net, Mocking the Draft, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at